Jewelry designer Debbie Liu presents her line and talks about her trunk show experiences.
ABI: Tell us about your jewelry line.
DL: My jewelry brand is called Harlequin& Lionhead. My jewelry designs capture movement, feelings, and expressions of organic forms in rustic and romantic sculptural silhouettes. They are mostly sold online and through trunk shows all over New York City, including at Henri Bendel.
When I was a little girl, I was always trapped inside a small apartment and I yearned to be free outside and play. That yearning never left me in life and has become the strongest sentiment in my collection. I wanted to create jewelry that inspires the imagination and captures the playfulness of the outdoors.
Nature to me is mysterious and capricious, but dreamy and nurturing at the same time. I strive to capture and juxtapose these conflicting qualities, and interpret them in a more abstract way. For example, my Rose collection is romantic but rustic. The Whirls collection is edgy but elegant as well.
I usually experiment on a design by hand in clay or wax, resulting in a strong organic and sculptural look. Shaping a form by hand allows me to add memories, feelings, and joy into my work.
ABI: How did you get involved doing trunk shows?
DL: I joined the workshop of Art Business Institute during the Buyers Market of American Craft two years ago. I was inspired to push myself and to amp up my jewelry business through wholesale. I learned that a trunk show is a non-committal way to get one foot into a store. It gives both retailers and designers a test run to see if they are a good fit.
I spotted online the Henri Bendel’s open-see for emerging designers. They host it twice a year to select designers for 1 to 4-day trunk show opportunities at their NYC flagship location. I decided there was nothing to lose in trying…maybe my pride if I was rejected, but it was a small price to pay to get in a 5th Avenue department store. So I went and I was selected!
It was a great boost of confidence and I started talking to boutiques about trunk show opportunities. I then got another trunk show at a Brooklyn boutique and later on, they took on my jewelry line as a consignment.
ABI: What advice do you have for other artists who would like to pursue trunk shows as well?
DL: Do not fear talking to buyers! They are people too.
Present yourself professionally. Dress nicely to reflect your aesthetics and your brand. If you are going to an open-see like at the Henri Bendel or Bloomingdales, the buyers are tired after talking to so many designers, so be organized with your presentation. Start with the most representative piece that will peak their interest.
Be clear about revenue split and agree on retail price points before you commit. Remember that the trunk show has to work for both the retailer and you too. Find out what they will need from you beside your creation, like display units, your own branded materials like business cards and postcards, any talking points for the sales people, etc.
Speak up to your customers. If they are looking at your creation, they are interested. You have that one chance to sell yourself, so make good use of it instead of hiding behind your work.
Most importantly, remember no matter how the trunk show performs, it is a learning experience. Talking to buyers gets you insights about your market that you will never find anywhere else. Talking to customers helps you to refine your work and make it more saleable. Enjoy the experience and be proud of yourself!